With the official news that NHLers will be returning to compete in the Olympics once again after being absent from the 2018 Winter Games, the rapid speculation on who will represent each team has begun. With NHL talent spread all over the world more than ever before, we should be set for the closest and most exciting best-on-best tournament to date.
Each country will have some very tough decisions to make, some more than others, when it comes time to submit their final 25 man rosters in January 2022. We will take a look at what each of the main contenders teams should look like come game one of the tournament. We’ll be projecting thirteen forwards, seven defenceman and three goalies for each major team in the tournament. Today we’ll take a look at Sweden’s big rival, Finland.
A reminder that these teams are not necessarily who we think will be named to the actual team, but who we would pick for the team.
The Finns have nowhere near the depth that the top three teams do, however like usual they possess very solid goaltending and a solid top forward group. They may not be favourites to medal, but as they’ve shown in the past they always seem to surprise and end up knocking out one of the top teams. It’s not a coincidence they’ve won two bronze medals and one silver medal over the last three Olympics involving NHL players.
Typically consisting of mainly NHLers with a few European league skaters, this year’s Finnish roster could consist entirely of NHL talent. The growth of the game in Finland has led to high-level Finnish talent all throughout the NHL. Come time for roster selection, there may be a couple of players coming out of the KHL or Liiga (Finland’s top league), but it wouldn’t be surprising for Finland to boast an all-NHL roster to show they mean business.
Roope Hintz – Aleksander Barkov (C) – Mikko Rantanen (A)
Teuvo Teravainen – Sebastian Aho – Patrik Laine
Joonas Donskoi – Mikael Granlund (A) – Kasperi Kapanen
Joel Armia – Jesperi Kotkaniemi- Jesse Puljujarvi
Aleksander Barkov gets the nod as the number one centre due to his two-way game compared to Sebastian Aho. The Panthers superstar will need to play a ton of minutes for Finland to have a chance against other top teams. The good news is he’s got one of the best wingers in the league beside him in Mikko Rantanen. Due to the team’s lack of depth on the wing, I bumped Roope Hintz to the wing to get him into the top-six. The Stars forward very quietly put up over a point per game last season and won’t look out of place on the top line.
For the second line the picks for left wing and centre were easy. Aho is the clear option behind Barkov, while his teammate in Carolina Teuvo Teravainen has little competition for his spot and will bring some chemistry to the second line. Patrik Laine was a tough call. His play has fallen off a cliff in recent years but the fact remains that he’s an elite finisher. That skill is invaluable in a short tournament and with little competition he gets a second line spot and the chance to play some elite linemates.
For the third line it’s Mikael Granlund flanked by new Seattle Kraken Joonas Donskoi and speedy winger Kasperi Kapanen. Kapanen’s game suits a bottom-six role and he’ll be a real asset on the penalty kill.
The fourth line came together due to lack of options. Both Joel Armia and new six million dollar man Jesperi Kotkaniemi played together in Montreal and will bring some chemistry which is never a bad thing in a short tournament. On the right they’ve got Jesse Puljujarvi who won’t have the same impact away from Edmonton’s #97, but is still a reliable two-way winger.
For the extra forward I went with a power play specialist in Eeli Tolvanen. He was one of the best in the league last year on the power play and will bring some much needed offence to the Finnish lineup if they need to call on him.
Miro Heiskanen – Markus Nutivaara
Esa Lindell – Henri Jokiharju
Juuso Valimaki – Jani Hakanpaa
To say Finland is thin on the back-end would be an understatement. There’s Miro Heiskanen and then a huge drop off. Expect Heiskanen to play an insane amount of minutes in this defence core as it’s best player by far. The underrated Markus Nutivaara slides into the top pair as he had a very solid season for Florida in 2020–21 that went unnoticed by most.
For the second pairing I went with a defensive specialist in Esa Lindell along with with Henri Jokiharju who is frankly overrated by many but does have some skill and was the best option here. Again the pickings are very slim here.
For the third pair I decided on youngster Juuso Valimaki on the left. He may have had an up and down season for the Flames last year, but his underlying results were still decent and I expect him to continue to progress in 2021–22 and earn a spot on this team. Beside him I’ve got a shutdown defenceman in Jani Hakanpaa who is a good fit on a bottom pairing and alongside the free wheeling Valimaki.
For the extra defenceman I took Olli Maata who has had some average results at both ends in recent years but does have a lot of NHL and international experience including representing Finland at the 2014 Olympics.
Clearly absent is the polarizing Rasmus Ristolainen. Perhaps he has a rebound year in Philadelphia this season, but he’s been one of the worst defenceman in the league in recent years and should be nowhere near an Olympic roster for Finland. That said, we know Ristolainen will play a big role on the real team.
The starting role is clear for Finland. Juuse Saros finally broke out last season and put up a Vezina worthy season. He’ll be the starter for Finland and their most important player if they hope to medal. At backup I have veteran Tuukka Rask who is currently sidelined with an injury but should be ready by 2022. He’s still a very solid goalie and fully capable of taking the starters role as well.
On the bubble
Kaapa Kakko – The 2020 second overall pick is currently on the outside looking in for this roster, but a strong start to the 2021–22 season could earn him a spot. He showed some real signs of progression last season and if that continues into next year he could steal a spot given his potential and skill level.
Sami Vatanen – The 30-year-old veteran has loads of NHL and international experience including suiting up for Finland at the 2014 Olympics, but has seen his play fall off considerably in recent years. If the team is looking to add some experience and/or a powerplay specialist Vatanen could make the team.
Ville Heinola – The Winnipeg youngster has just 13 games of NHL experience, but has lots of skill and potential. Putting it all together in time for the 2022 Olympics seems like a longshot, but Finland is so thin on defence that Heinola could have shot to earn a spot with a hot start to the 2021–22 season.
Arturri Lehkonen – The Montreal Canadiens veteran doesn’t bring a ton of offence to the table but he’s decent defensively and could be a solid depth piece considering who the Finns have available. Perhaps they look to reunite the Finnish trio from Montreal.
Finland can’t be counted out
Finland will once again be counting on their goaltending and top forwards to carry them through the Olympic tournament. Despite their lack of depth compared to the top three teams we shouldn’t doubt them when it comes to medaling in 2022. They showed the world in 2006, 2010 and 2014 that they deserve a place among hockey’s elite countries. Finland will be a tough out for any team in this tournament, even Canada and the US.